A team managed by a Latino, with several Latino players and that openly celebrates Latino culture brought baseball’s ultimate prize back to the nation’s capital and the home to President Donald Trump.
The Washington Nationals capped a Cinderella season with a 6-2 win over the Houston Astros in Game 7 of Major League Baseball’s World Series Thursday night.
There were all sorts of reasons to celebrate, such as the fact it was the first MLB World Series title for the nation’s capital since the Senators won it in 1924. The Homestead Grays were its last World Series team, winning the Negro World Series title in 1948.
But for Nationals fans like journalist and author Ray Suarez, the team's strong Latino presence made the victory even sweeter.
“I guess you can look at the World Series and decide whether or not the rest of the hemisphere is sending its best,” said Suarez, author of "Latino Americans: The 500-Year Legacy That Shaped a Nation" and baseball aficionado. “I think it is. They are sending their best and winning the World Series.”
Suarez was referring to Trump's controversial comments at the start of his presidential campaign in 2015.
"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending the best ... They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they're telling us what we're getting," said then-candidate Trump.
In a recent poll, 69 percent of Latinos said they think Trump’s actions have been bad for Hispanics generally, while 19 percent think they’ve been good.
Two months ago, a gunman opened fire inside a Walmart in predominantly Latino El Paso, Texas, killing 22 and wounding 26. Police said the gunman told them he wanted to kill Mexicans. Authorities also said the man charged in the domestic terror attack posted a screed that talked of a “Hispanic invasion," words that have been used about migrants crossing the border by Trump as well as other lawmakers.
By contrast, the win on Wednesday night was a welcome reminder of the growing Latino presence in America's national pastime.
“Not only is the Nationals as a team a reflection of what is happening in baseball, it’s unusually stocked with Latinos, especially Dominican and Venezuelan talent,” Suarez said.
Playing to that 'Calma' beat
Washington’s Latino team members include third baseman Anthony Rendon, who along with Howie Kendrick, hit the clutch homers to raise the Nationals from a 2-0 deficit to 3-2 lead in the top of the 7th inning. Rendon is Mexican American.
The Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez, a Brooklyn-born Puerto Rican, is the third Latino MLB manager to win a World Series. Ozzie Guillén, born in Venezuela, managed the Chicago White Sox in 2005 when the team won the World Series and last year, the Boston Red Sox took the pennant under Alex Cora, born in Puerto Rico.
It was Venezuelan-born Gerardo Parra, an outfielder, who gave Nationals their unofficial anthem, “Baby Shark.”
Parra made the children’s tune his walk-up song — played when he walks to the plate to bat — in June. Each time it was played it brought fans to their feet to dance and sing along and to mimic the jaws of a giant shark by clapping their outstretched arms.
When the Nationals celebrated their wins, Latino and non-Latino players alike did so to the reggaeton beat of the song “Calma,” an homage to Puerto Rico, the Washington Post reported.
The Nationals built their team camaraderie around enjoying the game, which has been a trademark of Latino baseball culture, said University of Illinois historian Adrian Burgos, Jr., author of several books on baseball.
“What we see with the Washington Nationals from the manager through the pitching staff and players very much has a Latino flavor,” Burgos said. “Martinez set the atmosphere for that allowing it to be part of the character of the team he manages."
Burgos has been working with a colleague on a Smithsonian exhibit on the history of Latinos in baseball. It’s titled “¡Pleibol! (Spanglish for “Play Ball!”) and is scheduled to open next October.
A rich history
There often is controversy when sports and politics mix — note the divide over former professional football player Colin Kapernick taking a knee during the national anthem, Suarez said.
But even though baseball fans may want to turn away from the news and just watch sports, “you can’t ignore Juan Soto, Gerardo Parra, Anibal Sanchez or Asdrúbal Cabrera,” said Suarez, a New York Yankees fan who adopted the Nationals as a favorite too.
"All are immigrants from Latin America “who are part of the post 1965 immigrant-filled reality that makes the game exciting and fun and...American,” he said.
A few of the players carried flags from their birth countries during the trophy celebration.
The Nationals have a long history of recruiting Latinos, said Fred Frommer, author of the book “You Gotta Have Heart,” which tells the history of Washington baseball.
The Nationals’ reliance on players such as Soto and Rendon “is a throwback to the old Washington Senators, which had a pipeline to Cuban baseball players,” Frommer said.
Even though Senators owner Clark Griffith resisted integration of baseball with American-born black players, he skirted the Jim Crow-era segregation in baseball by hiring former minor leaguer Joe Cambria, known as “Papa Joe” to recruit and sign Cubans.
Over the years, Cambria signed 400 players, including Camilo Pascual and Tony Oliva, who signed with the team after it moved to Minnesota, Frommer said.
The Nationals aren’t unique in recruiting Latinos. The Astros dugout also had a number of key players who are Latino, Suarez noted. The Astros wouldn’t have gotten to the World Series without shortstop Carlos Correa, second baseman José Altuve and pitcher José Urquidy, he said.
CORRECTION (Oct. 31, 2019, 9:00 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the score at the top of the 7th inning in game 7. It was 3-2, not 4-2.